There’s been a lot of discussion during the last couple of weeks about who should win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. And each of the leading candidates can make a case.
Adrian Peterson not only has the Vikings on track to make the playoffs, but is on pace to break the league’s single-season rushing record. Peterson has flourished in a league set up to help quarterbacks. And while most QBs are taking advantage of the rules, Peterson is running through and around eight guys in the box less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery.
Maybe no player has done more with less than Aaron Rodgers. His defense has been banged up all year; he doesn’t get any help from his running game, while he gets even less support from his offensive line. Even though he’s been sacked a league high 45 times, he still has the best quarterback rating en route to another division title.
Tom Brady is a candidate again because he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time and is still playing at that high level. Sunday night’s 28 point rally in 14 minutes, even though it ultimately fell short, was proof of that fact.
Depending on how you look at the award, whether it goes to the best player or the guy a team can least afford to lose, Peyton Manning doesn’t qualify as the best in either category. But he still should win it because of something that isn’t quantified with statistics or tangible enough to pass the eye test.
Manning’s value is breathing life into a franchise mired in mediocrity since 2006, while setting up realistic expectations to reach the Super Bowl in 2012. His perceived value last spring has exceeded those expectations.
Yet, it’s easy to argue Manning winning the MVP award would almost be insulting to the entire Broncos organization.
Manning isn’t directly responsible for a defense that’s top-five in yards and points allowed. And giving Manning credit for Von Miller’s growth into one of the top defensive players in football, or the Pro Bowl-caliber emergence of Wesley Woodyard and Chris Harris, would be unfair.
You can’t even make the case the Broncos have used the same winning formula that was so effective in Indianapolis – build an early lead and unleash Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. All season long, the Broncos offense has struggled to score in the first half, forcing the defense to carry the load until the offense got on track. Miller and Elvis Dumveril haven’t been piling up stats because they’ve gotten a green light in certain passing situations; these guys have been dominating with or without the lead.
Manning wasn’t responsible for the front office bringing in a pair of aging veterans, Dan Koppen and Keith Brooking, who’ve made key contributions while filling major holes. Manning also isn’t responsible for the addition of Trindon Holliday, who’s been a tremendous boost on special teams.
Manning shouldn’t be the most valuable player because of his story – a future Hall of Famer who missed an entire season because of four neck surgeries. Manning’s value is much deeper than that, too.
Manning is the MVP because his presence alone forces everyone in the organization to perform at a higher level. This past spring, he barked at a ball boy who wasn’t lined up in the right spot. Manning, though, leads far more by example than he does with his words. And a piercing stare from Manning can make even the toughest man shake in his cleats.
Manning is your classic “He makes everyone around him better” player. He’s unafraid to demand perfection and uninterested in being satisfied. He’s inspired underachieving players to become better and good players to become great.
Manning’s personal greatness is best illustrated with the way he’s performed his job for well over a decade. He has total control of this offense in just one year on the job in Denver. That, in and of itself, is awe-inspiring, considering the magnitude of the responsibility.
Manning’s influence on this organization can be felt all the way to the top. Following the Josh McDaniels fiasco, the Jay Cutler trade, Brandon Marshall’s meltdowns, the Tim Tebow circus and numerous off-the-field issues, the Broncos finally have stability and confidence because of a proven winner. He commands respect walking down a hallway and has everyone’s undivided attention when he opens his mouth. E.F. Hutton has nothing on Manning.
Using John Fox’s words, “Manning raises all boats,” and this boat is being carried by a force of nature not seen since John Elway.
When the Broncos signed Manning, Champ Bailey told me that this was his best chance to win a Super Bowl. When I asked why, he succinctly said, “Because of 18.” And when Jack Del Rio was privately asked by a team executive why he seemed so happy following a preseason game, Del Rio said, “We have Peyton Manning.”
The Manning effect has permeated this organization. Its value cannot be overstated and no voter should overlook it.
Eric Goodman hosts Afternoon Drive with Mac and Goodman from 3p-6p Monday through Friday on Mile High Sports Radio (AM1510 | FM 93.7).